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Fun Treadmill Workouts for Every Fitness Level

Deciding the time is NOW to get into shape is the crucial first step — congrats!

Investing in a piece of exercise equipment or a gym membership is an awesome second step.

Unfortunately, people too often stop there; connecting the dots between wanting to exercise and actually exercising is the tricky part. The secret is to set yourself up for success. One major way to do that is to prepare a plan of action — and make sure the plan is not dead boring; when it comes to working out, boredom is the kiss of death.

When I ask people “why did you stop training?” the typical answer is something along the lines of “I was bored ... I didn’t have a plan ... Honestly, I really didn’t know what to do.”

Well ... now you will. This blog is the first of a series of “How to use X” columns. In each I will outline how to use a different piece of equipment — everything from the treadmill (today’s topic), to the stability ball, to dumbbells, to the home gym. My mother always told me to “find solutions not excuses.” Well, these blogs are your “solutions.” Use them to learn how to work out and utilize your chosen piece of equipment.

Treadmill cardio workouts 101

There are two basic types of cardiovascular workouts: “steady-state workouts” and “intervals.” With steady state you “get on and go” – your basic goal is to keep your heart rate between 60% and 85% of your max for 20-plus minutes.

With intervals, you alternate between bouts of high- and low-intensity training. This places a high metabolic demand on the body, burns lots of calories in a short amount of time, produces a high EPOC (post-workout calorie burn), increases mitochondrial growth (mitochondria help to burn fat), and helps improve one's fitness level. Plus, keeping track of the time and shifting speeds makes the workout go faster.

Initially aim for a minimum of 20 to 30 minutes of cardio, 3 times per week. Your eventual goal should be 5 days of cardio per week. Start with mostly steady-state cardio for 2 to 4 weeks. Gradually incorporate intervals. Initially aim for 1 day of intervals. Build to three days of interval training on non-consecutive days; intervals are harder on the body and thus need to be sandwiched between rest days.

On days you can’t fit in a full cardio workout, make sure to prioritize getting in your lifestyle “steps”; aim for 10,000 steps per day. Walk at lunch, pace on conference calls, take the stairs, and park slightly further away from your destination.


Fun ways to warm-up

Always warm-up for at least 5 minutes. Simply get on the treadmill and “go” at your specified warm-up speed (see below) or try one of these fun variations.

Warm-up option 1

1 minute forward walking, jogging, or running

1 minute walking sideways on the treadmill (feet parallel), right foot leading

1 minute walking sideways (feet parallel), left foot leading

2 minutes incline walking, jogging, or running at 2% incline

Warm-up option 2

1 minute forward walking, jogging, or running

1 minute walking sideways (feet parallel), right foot leading

1 minute walking sideways (feet parallel), left foot leading

1 minute backwards walking

1 minute walking sideways (feet parallel), right foot leading

1 minute walking sideways (feet parallel), left foot leading

Interval workout options

Do these workouts as a walker, jogger, or runner. When I say “2.5 to 3.5” or “over 7,” that simply means the number under “speed” on the treadmill. If running outside, the number corresponds to “miles per hour.” So, a 6 on a treadmill is 6 miles per hour, which is a 10-minute mile. As a walker aim for 2.5 to 3.5 speed during warm-up. A 3.5 to 4 mile per hour speed should be your regular speed and 4 to 4.5 miles per hour should be your “sprint/hard” intervals. As a jogger, warm-up between 4.5 and 5 miles per hour. Your regular speed should be 5 to 6 miles per hour. Your sprint is anything over 6 miles per hour. As a runner warm-up between 5.5 and 6 on the treadmill. Your regular speed is between 6 and 7 and your sprint is anything over 7.

Easy pick-ups

Warm up for 5 minutes.
Do 10 minutes at regular speed and 0% to 0.5% incline.
Then, cycle through the following for 10 minutes: alternate between 30 seconds at regular speed, 20 seconds slightly faster, and 10 seconds fast at 0% to 0.5% incline.
Finish with 5 to 15 minutes at your regular speed and 0.5% to 1% incline.
Cool down for 5 minutes.

Pyramid hill intervals

Warm up for 5 minutes.
Do all at regular speed: 1 minute at 5% incline, 1 minute at 0% inline, two minutes at 4% incline, two minutes at 0% incline, 3 minutes at 3% incline, 3 minutes at 0% incline, 4 minutes at 2% incline, 4% minutes at 0% incline, 5 minutes at 1% incline, 1 minute at 0% incline.
Finish with 5 minutes at 1% incline but fast speed.
Cool down for 5 to 10 minutes.

Pyramid speed intervals

Warm up for 5 to 10 minutes.
Do all at 0% to 1% incline. Cycle through the following sequence: 30 seconds hard, 30 seconds recovery, 60 seconds hard, 60 seconds recovery, 90 seconds hard, 90 seconds recovery.
Repeat 3 to 6 times.
Cool down for 5 to 10 minutes.

Mini pick-ups

Warm up for 5 minutes.
Do all at 0% to 1% incline. Do 5 minutes at regular speed.
Alternate 15 seconds hard with 45 seconds moderate for 10 minutes.
Recover for 2 minutes, then repeat.
Cool down for 5 to 8 minutes.

Trainer’s tip

Don’t be afraid of interval training. The myth is you have to be fit already to do them, but intervals are not just for athletes; you can do intervals without running stairs or sprinting until you puke. You alternate between bouts of higher- and lower-intensity activity, but the intensity of your interval depends on your individual fitness level. For some, the “high” interval will be walking quickly. For others, it might be jogging. Wherever you start, intervals are a great way to increase your fitness and make the most of the treadmill.

Kathleen Trotter is a personal trainer in Toronto who loves audiobooks, planks and having a growth mindset. You can follow her blog or find her on Facebook.